Hack Wilson: The hard-living Chicago Cubs star whose 1930 epic lives on | MLB

With over 40 homers, nearly a hundred RBIs and more than a third of the season left to play, Aaron Judge is poised to complete the best season of his mighty career.

Still, the New York Yankees slugger will need to pick up the pace to match Hack Wilson, one of the greatest and most rambunctious hitters in Major League Baseball history and holder of one of the most impregnable records Sport.

Judge joined an exclusive club last month when he hit more than 40 homers by the end of July. With a strong end to the summer, the outfielder could surpass Wilson’s career-best total of 56 homers, set with the Chicago Cubs in 1930 when he was 30 — the same age Judge is now.

But it’s impossible to imagine anyone — not Judge, not Pete Alonso, not Jose Ramirez, not a single modern hitter — threatening Wilson’s MLB record total of 191 runs scored. That too was achieved with the Cubs 92 years ago. August 1930 was a monstrous month for Hack: 113 at-bats, 45 hits, 13 home runs, 53 RBI.

Wilson finished the year with 146 runs scored and a .356 batting average to go along with that eye-popping 191 RBI. The 56 home runs were a National League record that stood for 68 years until surpassed by Mark McGwire in 1998.

Lou Gehrig hit in 185 runs for the Yankees in 1931, which remains the second-highest RBI total in a season. Wilson was originally credited with 190, but a fairly late review determined that an RBI that should have gone to Hack was wrongly given to a teammate at the time, and his tally was increased to 191 in 1999 .

Driving in hordes of teammates is an old fashioned habit now that on-base percentages and average points per game tend to be lower than in the pre-war era. Of the 30 highest single-year RBI totals, only five occurred after 1949, and all of them in the “steroid era”. No one has run more than 150 runs since Alex Rodriguez (156) with the Yankees in 2007.

Wilson was definitely on a drug, but not the performance-enhancing one. Born in the steel country of Pennsylvania, his parents were alcoholics and Hack followed suit. He always insisted that he never went to the field drunk. So what about the hangover? That was another matter.

“I’ve never had a drink in my life on the day of a match after 11 a.m.,” he once said. For Clifton Blue Parker, author of a beautiful biography of Wilson, Fouled Away, he “was the epitome of a baseball player’s Roaring Twenties, prepared for an age of American excess”.

Hack’s mother died of a burst appendix when he was seven. He left school at 16 and worked 12-hour days at a printing company, then signed for the minor league Martinsburg Blue Sox in West Virginia. He broke his leg on the opening day of his first professional season, prompting him to switch from receiver to outfield after recovering. Wilson worked as a label sewer in a sock factory during the off-season and married Virginia Riddleberger, a divorcee 12 years her senior, at 23.

Wilson made his major league debut with the New York Giants in 1923, earned his nickname (his real name was Lewis) and drew comparisons to a cross-town slugger named Babe Ruth – in appearance, batting prowess and a taste for extracurricular activities.

His unusual physique has fascinated contemporary sportswriters, while more recent analysts have speculated that he was caused by fetal alcohol syndrome. Hack was only 5ft 6in tall, but was heavy, with a large head, tiny feet, and small arms and legs. Baseball writer Lee Allen wrote in 1961 that Wilson was a comic character, a “chubby Goliath, a gorilla of a red-faced man” who “looked like a sawed-off Babe Ruth”.

Hack Wilson poses at Chicago Cubs spring training in Catalina Island, Calif. Photography: Bettmann Archives/Bettmann

Acquired by the Cubs in late 1925, he thrived in the chaos of Prohibition-era Chicago, where, Parker wrote, he “was on friendly terms with Al Capone.” He was arrested once when police raided a speakeasy. The story goes that he tried to escape through a window but got stuck halfway. “Standing in line a few days later,” Parker recounted, “he got into a shoving match with two police officers. Charged with disorderly conduct, he was taken to the police station where the captain, a fan of baseball, dropped the charges and actually ordered the officers to apologize.

An early reconnaissance report reportedly described Hack as possessing “murderous tendencies”. Parker wrote that Wilson once drunkenly ransacked a hotel room in Boston and shoved a referee. He hit a Cincinnati Reds pitcher during one game and knocked out another at a train station later that night. The Chicago Tribune reported that during a game at Wrigley Field in 1928, Wilson ran into the stands and “choked the hell out” of a heckler. Wilson was fined $100 by the National League and the fan, a milkman, sued Hack and the Cubs for $50,000.

Although he hit 39 home runs and batted .345 with 159 RBI in 1929, Wilson’s season was defined by errors in Game 4 of the World Series that helped the Philadelphia Athletics overcome an eight-run deficit and to win the title.

Traumatized by mistakes, Wilson bounced back from his record-breaking 1930 campaign and became the National League’s highest-paid player, with an annual salary of $33,000 (equivalent to about $650,000 today). He seemed entrenched as the National League’s riposte to American League’s Ruth, albeit with only a fraction of the media attention given to The Babe, but his downfall was swift.

His drinking escalated and he fell out with stiff and abstinent new player-manager Rogers Hornsby and was suspended after being charged with cheering on a teammate who beat two reporters at a train station . He mustered a meager 13 home runs and 61 RBIs in 1931 and was traded to the St Louis Cardinals, who soon sent him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. A good season proved only a temporary return to form, and Wilson played his last major league game for the Philadelphia Phillies at the age of 34.

He returned to Martinsburg and opened a pool hall, but his life changed. His wife filed for divorce, accusing him of having contracted a “repugnant venereal disease”. He fell out with their son. And the money was gone.

“Hack was a warm, happy, full-blooded human being, well-scented with malt and seasoned with life,” Bill Veeck Jr, the Cubs president’s son and team owner, recalled in Wrigleyville as quoted by Peter Golenbock.

“Hack’s only problem was that he was too generous. He gave everything he had. Still. His money, his shirt on his back – little things like that. Chicago was a small town back then. Hack’s drinking buddies, a gang of about two dozen Chicagoans, were waiting for him after the game and heading to the North Side and West Side joints. Hack picked up all the checks.

Broken and shattered, he tried the bartender but was taunted by customers. He found work in an aircraft factory in Baltimore, then as a park worker and pool locker attendant.

Penniless, Wilson died of an illness apparently linked to alcohol in Baltimore at the age of 48 in 1948, three months after Ruth succumbed to cancer. Although he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, he is remembered as much for his flaws as for his triumphs.

He gave a regrettable interview to a radio station a week before his death. Portions were transcribed, framed and posted on a wall in the Cubs clubhouse as a cautionary tale. “There are a lot of kids in and out of baseball who think that just because they have natural talent, they have the world by the tail,” Wilson said. ” This is not the case. In life, you need a lot more than talent. Things like good advice and common sense.

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